by Caireen Goddard, Senior Director Of Impact, Big Change
Officially launched as a global initiative at the UN Transforming Education Summit 2022, the Big Education Conversation supports people and communities around the world to come together to talk about what education is really for.
Why do we need Big Education Conversations? Research shows that questioning a system’s purpose – it’s goals and objectives – and aligning different groups around a shared purpose, is a high-leverage point for transformation. The Big Education Conversation provides a set of tools and resources to help parents, young people, educators, and other stakeholders come together to ask “What do you believe is the purpose of education?”, then turn that insight into commitments and action.
“I have hosted a Big Education Conversation with primary school children in Uganda and it was amazing to just listen to them about their ideas on the purpose of education. I am so excited to be joining this conversation today on the international day of education.” Eunice Lynda Nakaibale, Uganda
The BEC Global Relay was a key event at Learning Planet Festival where students, teachers, artists, ministers, and anyone else committed to education transformation came together to celebrate and share practice.
The BEC Global Relay was co-hosted with Learning Creates Australia, Dream a Dream (India), Remake Learning (US), People for Education (Canada), Right to Succeed and HeadsUp4HTs (England). The four events were designed to share the different ways partners are using the Big Education Conversations resources to drive education change in their contexts and to inspire more people and organisations to take part.
During four calls spanning time zones, 76 intergenerational participants from 22 countries and 9 different time zones came together. They included young people just finishing high school, parents, community leaders, current and retired teachers dialling in from Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, UK, United States, and Zambia. All shared their beliefs, ideas, questions, and challenges around the purpose of education.
“I’ve heard responses and ideas I have never heard before.” Andrew Speight, England, UK
“It’s really interesting how different parts of the world are looking at the same issue.“ Charlie Connell-Tobin, Community Associate, Learning Creates Australia
The global relay surfaced rich insights that left participants feeling “inspired,” “grateful,” and “committed”. Several themes on what should be the purpose of education surfaced across different calls.
What we heard – 4 key insights
1. Education as a means to make sense of our present and build a better future for all
“Personally, I think the purpose of education should be to educate solutionaries: individuals who are equipped to use their personal talents and interests for solving the issues we are facing as a world community.” Bart Dankaerts, Netherlands
Many participants believe the purpose of education is to go far beyond rote learning to focus on cultivating human skills, wisdom, critical thinking, and understanding complex systems. The objective is to equip students with the tools to address real-world challenges in their context, and contribute to a better future rather than just focusing on test scores.
Education should connect learning with real-world issues, foster values such as empathy and sustainability, and motivate students to learn beyond traditional classroom boundaries. Education shapes our perspectives and how we value and process information. It plays a crucial role in ensuring that the values we hold influence how we create and understand knowledge, helping us avoid repeating past mistakes. Overall, there was a consensus on the purpose of education to uplift humanity while restoring nature.
2. Education should be deeply rooted in empathy, community, safety, and trust
“Education is not just all about individual development, but about growing in relation to the community around you” Richard Fransham, Canada
Education is about nurturing safe spaces where students feel respected and valued. Jaspreet from Jammu and Kashmir in India emphasized the critical need for safety within educational environments. Participants called for a welcoming atmosphere that acknowledges and celebrates each student’s distinctiveness rather than judging deviation from the norm.
Across different calls, participants shared their aspirations around trusting relationships with educators not just as teachers but as allies, guides, and supporters, as key to establishing a supportive and safe space.
During the Dream a Dream session participants took on different roles, such as teachers understanding politicians’ challenges, and demonstrated that true empathy arises from experiencing others’ perspectives. This role-reversal illuminated how empathy increases when roles and positions overlap. For example, how a politician, also a parent, can contribute to a wider, more inclusive viewpoint in decision-making.
3. Education should enable students to make decisions about their life and learning
Participants agreed on the active role students should play in changing education. Shifting from a monologue to an intergenerational dialogue where students are more than mere recipients but shapers of their educational experience. The purpose of education is about cultivating an environment where students don’t just absorb information; they question, challenge, and influence the curriculum that shapes their minds and future. Education must pivot towards uncovering and nurturing the innate strengths and interests of students. It is about asking, “What makes you curious? What ignites your spirit and drives you to make a difference?”
“If education should be a process that enables learners to discover and define their purposes, concerns, interests, and questions then they need time and space and a safe culture to do this. I propose 20% of school curriculum time to be allocated to this – for a start.” Derry Hannam, UK
“What are you – as my school, teacher, or system – doing to help me discover my strengths, apart from loading me with a rote curriculum methodology? Why am I not a part of your planning board room?” Young person
4. Education must foster holistic well-being
“Seven years of biology classes didn’t help me understand how to care for my body and mind. I believe the purpose of education should go beyond developing our intellect. We need learning ecosystems that nurture our whole beings and support us in building deep attunement with ourselves and others. This includes understanding how our emotional health, physical well-being, and the community around us are all interconnected.” Eva Keiffenheim, Austria
Participants advocated for a more integrated approach to learning – one that nurtures the whole person, encompassing their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive dimensions. Education that is centred on learners’ well-being enables them not just to navigate but also contribute to a society that values collective well-being and communal thriving.
The concept of Body-Mind Centering mentioned by one of the participants enriches this holistic educational approach. It emphasises the importance of being in sync with one’s own body and mind and, by extension, with others and the surrounding environment. This practice fosters a deep, intrinsic awareness that is essential for personal growth and empathy towards others.
Commitments that emerged from conversations
“My small commitment to big change would be to make connections, and speak to more people rather than speaking at people. To listen to what people have to say, and try to talk to the people who aren’t the first to speak, who might have opinions but aren’t quick to share them.” Vincent, Community Associate, Learning Creates Australia
Grounded in connected conversations about purpose, participants committed to actionable steps towards big change, focusing on empowering youth and embracing diverse perspectives. They pledged to continue discussions, foster connections among young people, and explore innovative ways to amplify their voices in shaping education.
Participants are eager to shift the educational discourse and foster positive environments, advocating for the Big Education Conversation (BEC) in schools worldwide. They showed a readiness to innovate and support education positively and many committed to deepening their understanding of BEC, engaging through their professions, and promoting best practices online.
“I will continue to work with young people, where their voices are being heard and put them in the positions with decision-makers to have their lived experiences and ideas put across and heard.” Jade Ellis
“I will keep the conversation going with our young people at YLUK – find new ways for young people to connect together to strengthen their reach and amplify their voices on BECs to express their purpose for education.” Mehran Mokri
“Talk to more people about the need to have more young voices at the table when education is concerned.” Sharon
“Invite more people to share their experiences, insights, and vision for change and create a platform so others have the opportunity to listen – so we can all keep learning and transforming together.” Lauren
“To work more with Austrians schools to involve them in the international programs we organise at Salzburg Global.” Dominic Regester
“I am going to ensure I challenge the purpose of education and encourage others to view education as a tool to equip students to “take on life.” De’Ann Edwards
“I pledge to continue to support the Big Education Conversation and have a Big Education Conversation with my husband who is a newly qualified teacher.” Bethan
“We will recommend BEC to teacher friends this month. These conversations should be happening in the classrooms.” Ed Stevenette
“We will screen a movie (Most Likely to Succeed) in a whole community event and have a discussion afterwards. The plan is to host these kinds of gatherings and conversations a couple of times a year in order to keep the conversations about the purpose of education going as a community.”
“I will host a Big Education Conversation using the available resources in my local school community within the next 2 weeks.” Jonas, young person
We want to thank everyone who joined and co-created the first-ever Big Education Conversation Global Relay. We appreciate your time, presence and perspective. Special shoutout to Richard in Canada who joined both the first and the final call in the Relay, ‘because one wasn’t enough!’. To get involved, visit www.bigeducationconversation.org, where you’ll find free resources to support you, now in 8 languages, and explore the interactive map.